An Interview with Scott Russell Sanders

Grist is an environmental news website that featured an interview with Scott Russell Sanders and I thought it might be fun to share a little bit of this. Below are a few questions and answers from the interview. Check out the full interview here.

Q. You write about settling in southern Indiana in 1971 and trying to be a conscientious citizen since then. How have you seen the environmental movement, or attitudes toward conservation, change in the Midwest over that time?

A. During my nearly 40 years here in southern Indiana I have seen a rising concern about the preservation of forests, the restoration of wetlands, the cleansing of rivers, and the healing of communities.  As I travel around the Midwest, I meet people everywhere who are involved with farmers’ markets, with land trusts, with community-supported agriculture, with schoolyard gardens, and with other efforts to protect and restore portions of the natural world. Every community I visit has organizations devoted to looking after the land and waters, fostering organic gardening, reducing carbon emissions, or other environmental causes. I find that very encouraging.

The central section of A Conservationist Manifesto focuses on Indiana, because this is the place I know most deeply. For the benefit of readers who live elsewhere and who may think of the Midwest as short on wild beauty and environmental consciousness, I wish to call attention to the natural history of my home region and to the conservation efforts underway here.

Q. Your vision about how we ought to live in relation to the natural world stands very much in the tradition of Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and such. And you make it pretty clear in your writing that you’re working from within that tradition. I’m curious about how you make your message your own.

A. Well, certainly I have drawn on the great tradition of American nature writing, and I honor those predecessors. But I also feel that I’m doing something different. That tradition was created primarily by men who explored nature in solitude. They made excursions into the natural world, lived beside ponds or climbed trees in the midst of storms or canoed wild rivers, and then returned to write about the experience. I treasure their work.  But I am not solitary.  I write about living in the midst of family, community, and human structures.  I see the natural world not as a wild place out there, but as the matrix from which we arise and in which we dwell.  We breathe it, drink it, eat it, and wear it; we are sustained by nature with every heartbeat.
Among our contemporaries, Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder, in particular, have written powerfully about human relationships embedded within nature.  They exemplify the sort of writer I’ve tried to be, more fully than such earlier figures as Thoreau or Muir.

Don’t forget! Scott Russell Sanders will be reading on Thursday, March 25th at 8p.m. in the Dana Fine Arts Building, Winter Theatre. There will be a reception and book signing to follow!

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